AUGUSTA, Maine — When Gov. John Baldacci addresses lawmakers and the public tonight, he will be continuing a tradition that dates back to Maine’s earliest days as a state and the first man to hold the office of chief executive.
Gov. William King delivered the first such speech on June 2, 1820. For the next 60 years, successive governors delivered their “inaugural addresses” each January after what were then annual gubernatorial elections.
In the generations since, the length of a governor’s term has been lengthened first to two years and then, in the 1960s, to four years. But the tradition of an annual address — typically delivered to the Legislature sometime in January — has persisted.
The current “State of the State” label affixed to the address is fairly recent, according to Maine state historian Earle Shettleworth Jr.
“These are very valuable sources of information because every one of those addresses is a snapshot of the state for that particular year and at that particular time,” said Shettleworth.
Baldacci is scheduled to offer his views on the health of the state and outline some of his administration’s top priorities for his last year in office during a 7 p.m. address to a joint session of the Legislature.
Before the days of radio or television, the gubernatorial addresses were published in booklets made available to the public as well as reprinted verbatim in many of the state’s major newspapers, including the Bangor Daily News, Shettleworth said.
Tonight, interested Mainers can hear Baldacci’s speech live on Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s television and radio stations and Web site.
The full text of Baldacci’s remarks, as well as reaction from Republican leaders and audience members, also will be posted on the BDN Web site immediately after the speech. Friday’s print and online editions of the BDN also will contain additional coverage of Baldacci’s final “State of the State” address.
Consistent with past years, the Baldacci administration has been tight-lipped about what the governor plans to say in the annual address. David Farmer, spokesman for Baldacci, said the governor would offer a “frank assessment” about the state of Maine’s economy but also propose ways to create jobs and encourage economic recovery.
The governor also is expected to discuss energy and education issues as well as efforts to increase efficiency in state government in the face of an estimated $438 million budget shortfall.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye, R-Perry, will deliver the Republican response to Baldacci’s speech.
In a poll released in November, only 30 percent of respondents said they believed Maine was headed in the right direction, with 52 percent believing the state was on the wrong track and 17 percent undecided. That same survey, by Portland-based polling firm Critical Insights, said that 52 percent of respondents disapproved of Baldacci’s job performance.
Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of the 360 respondents who had participated by Wednesday evening in an unscientific poll on the BDN Web site rated the state of the state as “bad.”